Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Childs on Canon - the purpose of his book

Childs begins his book by surveying recent Pauline scholarship and how rarely (if ever) the subject of canon is ever raised. This is understandable from the perspective that sees ‘canon’ a later construct used by the church to signify a set of writings as authoritative. Of what consuequence could their decision have for the task of understanding Paul.

However, as Childs points out to speak of a Pauline theology is to presuppose a Pauline corpus. Once we begin to speak in these terms we have started using canonical language. To speak of ‘a “Pauline corpus” is to enter into

‘the arena of how the historical letters were received, treasured, and shaped, which is of course a canonical question. Can one really search for a Pauline theology when the voices of those are missing who preserved his letters explicitly for an ongoing theological function within the early communities of Christian faith?' (p.3)

As such:

'The purpose of this monograph is therefore to explore the exegetical and hermeneutical implications of canon for understanding within the context of the church' (p3.)

In other words this is primarily a book about how the concept of the canon informs our reading of Paul.

Canon - an introductory note

As I begin working through Childs’ book on the canon and Paul, I wanted to point out that many of these posts will be simple reporting of the contents of the book. At points - probably much later on - I will try and do some evaluation but for the most part the early posts will be seeking to reproduce Childs’ argument. And here lies one of the dangers of blogging - especially in mini posts like this. So, please take note that in seeking to reproduce Childs’ argument (much of which I imagine I will agree with), I am not automatically signalling agreement with everything.


The issue of canon is a vital one for our doctrine of Scripture. Why should we regard certain writings as normative, indeed as the Word of God? What exactly is it that makes these particualar writings special? I think this is a question that will become more acute in the years to come as it touches on many of our contemporary debates. So, take homosexual practice. Why should Christians regard 1 Timothy 1:10 (for example) as normative and not the writings and experiences of modern Christians who want to affirm belief in Christ and homosexual practice? Isn't the authority of 1 Timothy merely derived from the decsisions of the early church - weak, flawed men as much as any generation? Or even if we say that it may have been authoritative for that generation, why should it continue to remain authoritative when times and people have changed so much.

Over the next few months I am hoping to make some posts on the issue of canon. Many, I am guessing will flow from a book I have just started reading: The Church's Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus by Brevard S. Childs. Here is a quote to whet your appetite:

[I]n my opinion the widespread axiom of the New Testament guild that the subject of canon does not belong to critical New Testament study, but is a later activity of church history, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding. [...] [This misunderstanding] serves to illustrate two dramatically opposed understandings of the task of biblical studies, and to demonstrate how high are the theological issues at stake.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

No time to exercise?

Just six minutes of intense exercise a week does as much to improve a person's fitness as a regime of six hours, a study says. Read the whole thing.

No time to read (II)?

An oldie but a goodie from John Stott:

An hour a day is the absolute minimum time for study which even the busiest pastors should be able to achieve. . . Many will achieve more. But the minimum would amount to this: every day at least one hour; every week one morning, afternoon or evening; every month a full day; every year a week.

No time to read?

From Brothers We are not Professionals, some encouragement to read from John Piper:

We think we don’t have time to read. We despair of reading anything spiritually rich and substantial because life seems to be lived in snatches. One of the most helpful discoveries I made is how much can be read in disciplined blocks of twenty minutes a day. Suppose that you read slowly, say about 250 words a minute (as I do). This means that in twenty minutes you can read about five thousand words. An average book has about 400 words to a page. So you could read about twelve and a half pages in twenty minutes. Suppose you discipline yourself to read a certain author or topic twenty minutes a day, six days a week, for a year. That would be 312 times 12.5 pages for a total of 3,900 pages. Assume that an average book is 250 pages long. This means you could read 15 books like that in one year. Or take a longer classic like John Calvin Institutes (fifteen hundred pages). At twenty minutes a day and 250 words a minute and six days a week, you could finish it in 25 weeks. Then Augustine’s The City of God and B.B. Warfield’s Inspiration and Authority of the Bible could be finished before year’s end. This astonishing discovery freed me from the paralysis of not starting great, mind-shaping, heart-enriching books because I lacked enough big blocks of time. It turns out that I don’t need long periods of time in order to read three masterpieces in one year! I needed twenty minutes a day, six days a week.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Powerful preaching

After something of a hiatus (for a number of reasons - some ongoing), I came across and was struck by the following statement:

We must pose a question. Given the rejection of biblical inerrancy and the acceptance of historical-critical methods, what is the basis of the claim that something preachable is necessarily in the text? Why is a word of truth of God necessarily present in a passage of the Bible chosen by a lectionarist or by the preacher? [...] [W]hymeone who thinks that the Bible originated historically, contextually, and editorially, thus reflecting the human and even corrupted perspectives of its writers, think that any passage one happens to select must contain something in or about it that is proclaimable?
The quote is from Edward Parley (of the Divinity School of Vanderbuilt University) in an article entitled 'Preaching the Bible and Preaching the Gospel. (Theology Today, 51 (1994), p100). Clearly there are massive issues with it, and he implicitly draws lines which are incorrect (in the last sentence, for example, he posits a disjunction between divine inspiration and the reality of human authorship).

The issue to which I wish to draw attention, however, is in the first two sentences, where he asks the question about the 'rejection of inerrancy' and the presence of the 'word of truth or God' in the Scriptures. In the present climate where inerrancy is openly debated amongst bible-believing evangelicals, I wonder if Parley is actually making an insightful point. Al Mohler, in whose little pamphlet the above quote is found, states that Parley is 'taunt[ing] preachers who reject the inerrancy of the Scripture, but who continue to preach biblical texts.' (Preaching: The Centrality of Scripture, p.12). If we are to reject the inerrancy of Scripture, then isn't Parley, at one level, correct? Why preach from the Scriptures if they might contain error? It's a fair criticism.

Of course I realise that the inerrancy debate is a large and carefully nuanced one. But it's not one confined to the academy. For if the Bible is not inerrant, then surely our preaching would struggle to be declaratively powerful? If we're not certain that what the Bible says, God says, then what we say cannot honestly be held forth as divinely saving words to a suffering world.

Might God strengthen us this Christmas to hold to the unfailing infallible word, and to preach and proclaim it with all confidence and care.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Luke 14:25-35

So far my sermon outline for this passage is:

Following Jesus means:

i. Loving Jesus before all others (vv25-26)

ii. Carrying our cross (vv 27)

iii. Careful Consideration (vv28-33)

iv. Something about salt (!) (vv 34-35)

Any ideas about point 4? I remember doing a course on preaching where we were taught that the verse that you don’t understand how it fits into the passage is often the key to the whole passage. That’s why I am quite keen to get this one right…


One of the interesting (!) features of the German language is the ‘overloaded adjective construction’. In English we might say: The man, who was walking his recently purchased Boxer dog, stumbled across two men burgling his neighbour’s house.
German might put it like his: The walking his recently purchased Boxer dog man stumbled across two men burgling his neighbour’s house.

Now, if that’s not interesting I don’t know what is…

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Where is Jesus now?

I have been working on two German theologians - Albert Schweitzer and Ernst Käsemann. Although, I would not recommend their writings for a young Christian (at all!), they do have lots of profound insights into Paul in particular. Interestingly, they have polar opposite views on one question - the current location of Jesus:

Käsemann: ‘Paul knows no invisible Christ whom one can localize only in heaven’

Schweitzer: ‘For Paul, as for all the believers of his generation, Christ is in Heaven, with God, and nowhere else’

Who do you think gets it right?!

Machen on Education

“Modern pedagogy has emancipated us, whether we be in the pulpit or in the professor’s chair or in the pew, from anything so irksome as earnest labour in the acquisition of knowledge.”

Machen on God’s Care

Out in the dressing station, when the shells were falling close around, I somehow gained the conviction that I was in God’s care and He would not try me beyond my strength; that courage would keep pace with danger, or rather that danger (for I confess it turned out rather that way) would keep within the limits of courage. In short, I understand the eighth chapter of Romans better.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Machen on War II

Nichols (162-163): Machen was also moved by the ruin of the countryside, “a scene of desolation so abominable.” He adds, “I have seen burnt and ruined forests before. But the effects of shellfire are different. There was something indescribably sinister about the scene of ruin.” He had more of the countryside to see than he wanted to as they fought their way through France and into Belgium. A month or so before the end of the war, he wrote that his “shoes gave out completely under the stress” of the marching, adding, “Of course my feet were wet all the time.” He recalls what happened next: But finally I “salvaged” a dry pair of socks. Do you understand that word “salvage”? It is a great word in the army. When you see anything good lying around and appropriate When you see anything good lying around and appropriate it that is not “stealing”; it is merely salvaging. . . .You may laugh, and think I am irreverent, but I can say in all seriousness that one of the most fervent prayers that I ever offered in my life was the prayer of thanksgiving that I prayed that night in my dug-out when I pulled on those warm socks.

Rugby League World Cup

Now that the favourites have been knocked out, this competition is wide open...

Hays on Mark III - The implications

If Mark is presenting Jesus as the God of Israel then the implications are immense. Because Jesus - who is revealed in Mark as the Christ - is crucified. In other words we are seeing an identification of the Crucified Messiah and the God of Israel. Our God is the God of the Cross. No wonder Paul said that the Cross was a stumbling block to his fellow Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). And can we do anything other than marvel at and lay down our lives in worship of this God who went to the cross for us?

Monday, 10 November 2008

Machen on acts of humanity during the War

Machen served as a YMCA volunteer during the first world war. A lot of his time was taken up with serving tea and hot chocolate to the soldiers:

One German fellow said when I gave him the chocolate that it was “wie bei der Mutter.” It would have taken a harder heart than mine to keep from being touched by that. By the way, along with the hatred and bitterness incidental to war, there are some examples of the other thing which like the fair lilies in swampy ground are all the more beautiful because of the contrast with the unlikely soil in which they grow. Thus at one of the dressing stations near the front, I saw an American wounded soldier deliberately take off his overcoat and give it to a wounded German who was suffering a lot worse than he. When one reflects what that little act meant—the long cold hours of rain and damp along the way to the rear and the interminable waits— it becomes clear that magnanimity has not altogether perished from the earth.

Hays on Mark II

Why does Mark not make it obvious that he is referring to Jesus deity? Why do it through oblique allusions to the OT? Hays gives a number of reasons.

Firstly, the truth that Jesus is being identified as Jesus’ God is simply too radical to proclaim directly. It was simply too shocking a truth for a 1st Century Jew to say that a man could be indentified by God. So, Mark projects his story of Jesus onto the background of the story of Israel and as he does so ‘remarkable patterns emerge’ that show Jesus’ true identity.

Secondly, this elusive technique fits with Mark’s view of Jesus’ agenda. The secret of the kingdom of God is 4:12 is not given to everyone - only to those who have ears to ear. Mark’s use of the OT to reveal Jesus’ identity is only available to those who go beyond a superficial reading of the text. Mark uses his OT allusions like Jesus used the parables - to keep people out as much as to bring them in.

Thirdly, Mark 4:21-25 give us the hermeneutical key to what Mark is doing. Most English versions render v21 something like this (ESV): Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? However, there are couple of interesting things in the Greek - it is not ‘a’ lamp, but ‘the’ lamp and it isn’t brought - rather it ‘comes’. Hays argues that Jesus is the lamp - and he has come to be revealed. The language in vv24-25 about paying attention to how you hear and about the measure given to you, argues Hays, and this is possibly where he strains things a bit, refer to how you read the OT. If you read the OT with a ‘generous measure’ with respect to Jesus you will see him as he really is - the God of Israel.

What Mark was doing has parallels in other Jewish writings - especially Apocalyptic. So, for example, the book of Revelation uses lots of OT symbolism to argue its point - symbolism that if you miss it can lead to nonsensical interpretations (e.g. one writer arguing that the locusts of Revelaton 9:7 referred to US Cobra attack helicopters).
Whether or not you buy all the details of Hays’ argument, I think he is convincing in showing that Mark is presenting Jesus as the God of Israel.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Hays on Mark's Gospel

In examining Mark’s Gospel, Hays points to a number of ways that Mark uses Scripture to ‘narrate the identity of Jesus’. Here are a few examples:

-Who is the Lord of 1:2-3? In the context of Isaiah 40:3,9 it is no-one but God himself.

-Who can forgive sins (2:7)? According to Exodus 34:6-7 and Isaiah 43:35 no-one but God himself.

-Who can make the wind and sea obey him (4:35-41)? According to Ps 107:23-32 only God himself.

-Who is the shepherd of Israel (6:34)? According to Ezekiel 43:11-5 it is God himself.

-Who comes looking for figs (11:12-14)? According to Jeremiah 8:13 only God himself.

The most interesting one is the account of Jesus walking on water in 6:45-52. Often an attempt is made to see this as somehow referring to Moses leading the people across the Red Sea. However, a clearer OT background is surely Job 9:4-11 which speaks in v8 as God being the one who ‘treads on the waves of the sea’. Who can walk on water? Only God. The end of verse 48 often generates a bit of discussion. Why does Mark add the detail that Jesus was about to pass by them? Well, in verse 11 of Job 9, Job says of God ‘When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.’ In the Greek translation of this verse, the correspondence to Mark 6:48 is very close. In other words, in alluding to Job 9 Mark is simultaneously emphasising Jesus’ deity and the disciples’ inability to grasp his identity.

All this raises the obvious question - why was Mark not explicit in all of this? After all, Peter’s recognition of Jesus as Christ in 8:29 seems to be central to Mark’s Gospel. Does he really have another agenda to communicate the deity of Christ?

Hays in Durham

Every Monday night in the Theology Department we have seminars from different speakers. This week we had one of the leading NT theologians in the world at the moment - Richard Hays. He gave us a lecture on part of a chapter of a book he is writing on the use of Scripture by the Gospels. This particular lecture was entitled: Jesus as the Embodiment of the God of Israel?
I have to say that it was one of the most stimulating theological lectures I have ever heard! (Perhaps that says more about me than the lecture!).
Hays argued that, similar to Paul, Mark alludes to the OT and in fact his Gospel is saturated with the OT. Often Mark is seen as presenting the human side of Jesus - in contrast to say John who wants to stress his deity. However, Hays argued that when you see the many allusions to the OT, you can’t help but see that Mark has a remarkably high Christology - and sees that Jesus is God.

More to follow...

Friday, 7 November 2008

Machen on Anti-Intellectualism

‘All true faith involves an intellectual element; all faith involves knowledge and issues in knowledge.’

Machen on Preaching

‘Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the church without requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin’. As such, the church ‘is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task - she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance’.

Hays on Paul and the OT 2

One of the questions we ended with in the last post was how we can tell if Paul was alluding to an OT passage. Recognising that absolute certainty is impossible, and that discerning echoes of the OT is 'less a matter of method than sensibility', Hays lists seven tests that may help identify echoes of the OT in Paul (the NT in general).

1. Availability. Was the proposed source or echo available to the author and/or original readers? The answer to this one will inevitability be yes - given that Paul and his readers shared a very high view of (what is now known as) the OT.

2. Volume. The volume of an echo is determined primarily by the degree of explicit repetition of words or syntactical patterns, but other factors may also be relevant: how distinctive or prominent is the precursor text within Scripture, and how much rhetorical stress does the echo receive in Paul's discourse?

3. Recurrence. How often does Paul elsewhere cite or allude to the same scriptural passage?

4. Thematic Coherence. How well does the alleged echo fit into the line of argument that Paul is developing?

5. Historical Plausibility. Could Paul have intended the alleged meaning effect? Could his readers have understood it?

6. History of Interpretation. Have other readers, both critical and pre-critical, heard the same echoes?

7. Satisfaction. With or without clear confirmation from the other criteria listed here, does the proposed reading make sense? Does it illuminate the surrounding discourse? Does it produce for the reader a satisfying account of the effect of the intertextual relation?

The second question I raised in the last post about how much exegetical weight we should give to the allusion or echo if we think it is there is more difficult. Perhaps - though not directly related - the next post will give some answers.

Spurgeon on God's Providence

A great Spurgeon quote noted by Jean Williams at the Sola Panel

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of sear leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.

(Charles Spurgeon, ‘God's Providence’, sermon on Ezekiel 1:15-19.)

Machen on History and Doctrine

On 1 Cor 15:3: ‘Christ died’ - that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’ - that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.

Machen on Delight

‘My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows smoking.’

Richard Hays on Paul on the OT

Richard Hays has written a very significant book on Paul’s use of Scripture. In it he argus that Paul will often allude to the OT without formally quoting it.
CH Dodd proposed something similar when he spoke of how when a NT writer does make a formal quotation of the OT they often had the total context of the OT passage in view. However, Hays goes further and argues that we cannot adequately understand Paul ‘unless we seek to situate his discourse appropriately with what Hollander calls the “cave of resonant signification” that enveloped him: Scripture’. That is unless you read Paul as someone who was saturated in the OT, you will never understand him.
To take a couple of examples, when Paul says in Romans 2:6 that God will ‘render to every man according to his works’ he does not (despite the punctuation of most English versions) actually signal that he is quoting from the OT, but his words are lifted exactly from Ps 61:13 or Proverbs 24:12. That is an easy example as he is referring to a whole phrase.
Sometimes, however, he will allude to an OT passage with just a word or part of a phrase.
To take an example. In Phil. 1:19 Paul says:
for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance

Very few commentators pick up on the fact that the last part of the statement is an almost verbatim quotation of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) of Job 13:16. This raises two very important questions:

i. How do we know if Paul is actually alluding deliberately to an OT passage?

ii. If he is alluding to it, how much exegetical weight should we give this fact?

Friday, 31 October 2008

Is the ESV S-B that good?

There seem to be three big events in my on-line world at the moment. Two elections (yes, NZ is having one as well), and the release of the ESV study-bible. I've cancelled my order (when the NZ dollar fell from US.86 to US.56 it seemed a good idea to delete Amazon from my favorites), and am hearing very good things about it. I've also read a few of the freebies and they look great.

But I am a bit concerned when I hear people saying things like:

... a resource that trumps my seminary education...

Now there's a possibility that the blogger is being a little sarcastic (and of course it depends entirely on where he went to seminary), but I'd question whether any book, even the ESV study-bible trumps a seminary education. It's just a study bible. But then again I haven't read it. So if you have, I'd love to know - is the ESV study-bible THAT good?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

A blind haircut

I had my haircut today.

For me, having my haircut is an extraordinary event. For I am quite blind and have to take my glasses off when I sit in the chair, and so my experience of having my haircut is seeing a blurry figure dancing around slashing at my head with a pair of scissors.

It's also an extraordinary event because I get to see (in a metaphorical sense - remember the glasses are still off), the response of the hairdresser when I tell them that I'm a church minister. There's always a longer-than-average pause. I'm tempted to try out some different occupations on hairdressers just to see what gets the longest pause, but I fear I wouldn't be able to carry on the conversation in good faith when they ask me how I got into taxidermy.

The pause today was followed by 'oh, I'm not religious in any way. I'm really not religious at all. I've never really been to church'. We then spoke about all the churches she'd been to in Europe, and I tried to think of a way of explaining the gospel through reformation church history (but I find it hard to think quickly when I can't see clearly - remember, the glasses still off).

Later in the conversation we were talking about what a nice town Methven is, and how she likes it much more than Ashburton (Ashburton (or Ashvegas as it's known in our house) is the major town in mid-Canterbury). As we were talking about why it is that Methven is nicer than Ashburton, she relayed to me how a friend suggested to her that its because Ashburton has a major train track running through it, and that train line carries all the good energy out of the town. My hairdresser wasn't willing to rule that possiblility out.

And I realised that while I might be sitting there blind as a bat because my glasses were off, she was blinded in a far more terrible way. For the god of this age has blinded her eyes to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4). The idea that a train track can carry good energy out of a town is entertained, but there is a refusal to go to hear how God carried her sins to the cross.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Colour me bad

We received today a free parenting magazine. Now, I want to be clear that I'm all for helping parents be good parents - anything that anyone can do to encourage, equip and support parents to raise their kids is a good thing.

However, in this edition there is an article entitled 'What colours should your baby wear?' Being the metrosexual guy that I am, I launched into it.

There was some gold (no pun intended) in it - gentle colours, such as soft pink, are used with babies 'because it is the colour of the womb, as well as the colour of unconditional love' (bet you didn't know either of those life-changing pieces of information).

But the bit that particularly struck me was the detailed description of why colour is so important. I won't quote it all, but follow the 'argument'. At the heart of all matter are atoms, and in atoms are electrons, and when you open up an electron (you probably need a pretty sharp knife), all you're left with 'are two banks of energy - two electrical charges! This is the basis of all life'.

Ok, so you've got your electron open on the bench. We're then told (and I have to quote this):

Reversing the process is how matter is formed. Energy has layers like an onion [and Shrek], each one making the energy more dense. The first cloak of energy is COLOUR, the second [...] SOUND, the third [...] is MATTER. That's when rocks, trees and human bodies start being seen.
Again, bet you didn't know that inside every rock was sound. But some of your wives know that inside every man there's sound - and plenty of it. But then we get to the heart of it:

What this means - and this is important folks - is that we can alter and change ourselves, from the outside in, just by wearing and looking at different colours.

Apart from the fact that is must really suck to be blind, and apart from the fact that this kind of kooky new-age pseudo-science can be seen through by a 5 year old, the premise - that we can alter and change ourselves from the outside in - is as old as the hills.

It implies that we can do something to make ourselves better. Be it wearing certain colours, or praying facing a certain direction, or receiving a sacrament from a particular person - we have the power to change ourselves. If we do stuff on the outside, the inside will change. And yet Jesus is crystal clear - what you do on the outside can't change the inside. In fact, it's in the inside that makes the outside dirty, and no matter how much you spruce up the outside, it doesn't change the inside. What you need is someone to change the inside for you.

Of course this article did get one thing (almost) right. Soft pink is the colour of unconditional love. It was seen flowing from the head, and the hands, and the side of the one who died so that the inside might be changed.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Devaluing God

I'm preaching this Sunday on John 2:12ff - the clearing of the temple. One line of application is the priority of person over place. In his interaction with the Jewish leadership, Jesus clearly transfers the location of access to the Father from the temple to himself (Jn 2:22)

What has struck me in thinking about this is that by people thinking that there is something 'holy' about the church building - that they are somehow closer to God, or that the area up the front is somehow 'special' - they aren't actually treating that place with more respect and value - they are devaluing the rest of their lives, and more importantly, the presence and work of God in the rest of their lives.

If God were more present in a particular geographical space (such as a church), then we'd certainly have to watch our thoughts, attitudes, behaviour, etc. more while we were in that space. Then, when we left, we could relax a little. It wouldn't matter as much how we lived, for God wasn't as present as he is in that other place. And yet the comfort of the gospel of Jesus is that he will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5) - it was good that Jesus 'went away', for only then would the Spirit come and be with believers 'forever' (Jn 14:16). God's people are where he dwells (Eph 2:22), and therefore how we act at all times is of vital importance (1 Cor 6:19-20; Eph 4:30).

To say that God is 'more present' in a particular place is to devalue the worth and importance of every other place, and particularly to devalue the indwelling presence and work of Jesus' Spirit in his people in every place.

Monday, 20 October 2008

A Profound Post

Having not blogged for a couple of weeks, I thought I would return with a particularly profound post:

Apparently half the global population of tigers reside in captivity in Texas.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Two types of clarity

As noted earlier, I've just finished reading Mark Thompson's excellent book on the clarity of Scripture: A Clear and Present Word. Clearly (excuse the pun) this doctrine is timely and important - in a world where people claim that the Bible either can't be understood, or can be understood any way we choose, or has been misunderstood for centuries (and now we have it right!), or requires the church to understand it for us, a right and carefully thought out understanding of this topic is vital.

One thing which struck me on this reading was Luther's precise articulation of different types of clarity in Scripture. First, there is the external clarity of the Bible. "God has graciously chosen to express himself in the ordinary conventions of human language." (A Clear and Present Word, 148-9) This is what makes the comprehension and context questions of a Bible Study possible. We can translate it, read it, understand it. We can see structure in composition and rhetorical argument. It is clear because God has accommodated himself to human language (although of course its God's language to start off with!).

Secondly, however, there is as Luther describes, an internal clarity. That is, to understand the Bible as what it truly is, the revelation of God to us, which requires the Spirit of God in us. "Understanding in the true Christian sense, is more than making sense of the words on the page [...] Scripture remains God's word by which he addresses the human heart. God's clear word is made clear to believers by God." (A Clear and Present Word, 149). And this of course, is the glorious 'a ha!' moment in a Bible Study. When we hear God speaking to us through the text. When we are brought face to face with the glory of God in Christ, and respond in repentance and faith, and praise and proclamation.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Owen's heart

It's been a while since I've read any Owen, and I'm feeling the lack of weight and substance. Sinclair Ferguson made a comment somewhere that after he's read Owen he wonders why he spends time reading other theologians (or something like that). I can understand that (although I'm not sure I'd give up on the other theologians, but then again I'm sure neither would Ferguson). However, Owen's certainly got his difficulties, not least of which is he's hard to read. But he is rewarding, stimulating, and most importantly, he writes theology (and often very direct polemical theology) as a Christian man. When you read Owen you get the feeling that while his arguments are dense, complicated, and exhaustive (as well as being exhausting), his overarching purpose is to encourage you as a Christian, or to protect you from false teaching. The really important thing is not that you understand everything, but that you believe:

For my part, I had much rather my lot should be found among them who do really believe with the heart unto righteousness, though they are not able to give a tolerable definition of faith unto others, than among them who can endlessly dispute about it with seeming accuracy and skill, but are negligent in the exercise of it as their own duty.

The Doctrine of Justification by Faith – 5:63

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Thompson on Scripture

Next Sunday (the 19th), Mark Thompson is visiting Christchurch to speak on the clarity of Scripture (details here). As a bit of pre-game warm up I thought I'd have a wander through the book of his 2005 Moore College Annual Lectures, A Clear and Present Word. How's this for a wonderful statement:

Christian doctrine is not essentially rational, mechanistic or impersonal, but is relational at its very core because God in his eternal being is relational and determines all reality. A Christian doctrine of Scripture must speak of Scripture as it is related to God, and this will of necessity draw attention to the person, work and words of Jesus Christ, the one who is genuinely and without reduction both God and human. Scripture exists by and within the purpose of God to be known by men and women, those he is determined to rescue for himself. It is properly understood as an integral part of the purposeful communicative activity of God (Clear and Present Word, 78-9).

I wonder if we can go even further, and suggest that given what Thompson has said about the nature of the Scriptures being grounded in the nature of God (relational and communicative), it is right to speak of the Bible as being not only an 'integral part of the purposeful communicative activity of God', but also an integral part of the purposeful salvific activity of God.

Of course this salvific activity would need to be understood broadly (so as to include both the softening and hardening of hearts), and one would not want to restrict God's salvific activity to the presence or articulation of the exact words of Scripture (such a view would be validly open to Barth's critique of restriction of God's sovereignty), but the Bible not only communicates what God has, is, and will do, but the message of which is effective, by the Holy Spirit, in bringing those purposes about - 'and you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation (Eph 1:13).

My boys!

Here is a great news item about my former minister (and dear friend) and my current web designers (also dear friends). It makes it sound as though posting sermons on-line is a new thing, but St John's has been doing it for a long time. St John's website can be found here. And in shameless shelf-promotion, our website can be found here.

My Boy!

I'm not normally the sort of parent who raves about his kids, but I do have do make an exception. Yesterday was Theo's third birthday, and lucky kid got a bike (tiny little thing, because Theo's a tiny little thing). Liam came home from preschool in the afternoon and saw the bike (he knew we were giving it to Theo and was very excited). Liam grabs it from against the wall, hops on, and rides it 8 metres or so across the lawn.

Not a lot amazing about that. Except that the bike didn't have training wheels. And except that Liam had never before then been on a bike that didn't have training wheels. So Liam has essentially taught himself to ride a bike. And by the end of the afternoon he was cornering, stopping, and even occasionally getting off without falling.

But I have my doubts about Liam's naturally talents. For I fear that he got so good by making some sort of evil pact with the rose bush fairies - they seem to have demanded a blood offering, and Liam certainly left a LOT of blood on the rose bush throughout the day!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

This Sunday...

...arguably marks beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Thanks be to God that things are different now.

Understanding Bultmann on Mythology

Bultmann begins his famous essay The New Testament and Mythology by arguing that

the cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character. The world is viewed as a three storied structure, with the earth in the centre, the heaven above, and the underworld beneath’.

Bultmann argues that the roots of this mythical world-view lie with Jewish Apocalyptic and Gnosticism. This mythology makes the Christian message

incredible to modern man, for he is convinced that the mythical view of the world is obsolete.

Crucially, Bultmann asks if

when we preach the Gospel to-day, we expect our converts to accept not only the Gospel message, but also the mythical view of the world in which it is set.

Rather, shouldn’t we expect that

the New Testament embody a truth which is quite independent of its mythical setting?


If it does, theology must undertake the task of stripping the Kerygma from its mythical framework, of “demythologizing” it.

This question is crucial to our proclamation of the gospel:

Can Christian preaching expect modern man to accept the mythical view of the world as true. To do so would be both senseless and impossible. It would be senseless, because there is nothing specifically Christian in the mythical view of the world as such. It is simply the cosmology of a pre-scientific age. Again, it would be impossible, because no man can adopt a view of the world by his own volition—it is already determined for him by his place in history. Of course such a view is not absolutely unalterable,
It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modem medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles. We think we can manage it in our own lives, but to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world.

Thus, if
the truth of the New Testament proclamation is to be preserved, the only way is to demythologize it.

But, interestingly Bultmann argus that

our motive in so doing must not be to make the New Testament relevant to the modern world at all costs. The question is simply whether the New Testament message consists exclusively of mythology, or whether it actually demands the elimination of myth if it is to be understood as it is meant to be.

If you have read this far well done! We'll see what Rudi argues about the New Testament's demands next time.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Bultmann on his critics II

Following on from the Bultmann post below, a few aspects call for reflection:

-Whatever else this tells us, it tells us that if we are going to criticise people, we need to do it carefully and thoroughly. To give a related example, I have heard a number of people (myself included!) who simply reject Barth's position on Scripture as 'Scripture contains the Word of God'. This is not an accurate summary at all. Not only is it discourteous to the person you are criticising, it will never win over them or anyone who has embraced their teaching. If you are going to reject someone’s teaching - you need to make sure that you are rejecting what they actually teach and not a caricature. (So, for a more accurate criticism of Barth’s view of Scripture, see Mark Thompson’s essay in this volume).

-It is interesting that Bultmann’s concern is to make the gospel understandable to those outside the church. This, on one level is commendable, but - as we will see when we actually read some of his writing (carefully!) ­ - can also produce instability in that the centre of your theological reflection becomes not the Scriptures themselves but your audience. It would seem that a number of modern distortions of the gospel follow this path.

-What are we to make of Bultmann’s call for what we might label ‘epistemic humility’. ‘

They cannot imagine that they themselves could possibly be in error. They cannot listen any longer to another opinion or feel challenged to re-examine their own position. They do not know that Christian insight has to be won in inner wrestling and in brotherly discussion, and that this must proceed step by step.’

As Christians, must we remain permanently in a state of uncertainty about what we believe or have been taught? Is there nothing that we can be absolutely sure about? It seems that actually the NT breathes an air of confidence. Christians are expected to be able to grasp and hold onto the teaching of the apostles. So, Paul tells Timothy to ‘ guard the good deposit entrusted to you’ (2 Tim 1:14); Paul can be so certain that the Galatians understand the gospel that he can warn them that if anyone preaches a different gospel they are under a curse (Galatians 1:9). These two examples - and we could add many more- show that the tenor of the NT is not ‘epistemic humility’ but ‘humble certainty’. Humble in that we continue to depend on God - Timothy is told to guard the deposit ‘by the Holy Spirit’. But certain in that the Bible is clear .

Bultmann raises interesting questions, and hopefully in the next few posts we can look at what he actually said, so that we can engage with him fairly and accurately.

Bultmann on his critics

Having recovered from my first encounter with Bultmann, I decided to start by actually reading a brief introduction that Bultmann wrote to a collection of essays discussing his theology. Bultmann is famous for his idea that we need to 'demythologize' the NT. That is, we need to strip it of its mythical elements - so that we can get to the heart, the kerygma. I will hopefully post more on this later, but the introduction is fascinating to read in terms of how he received the criticism that came his way. I have included some pretty big chunks of text below - but they are worth reading...

He begins:

Apart from purely personal correspondence the daily mail arriving in recent years on my desk can be divided into four groups: 1, book catalogues; 2, advertisements for wine and cigars; 3, East German propaganda; and 4, letters on the subject of demythologizing.

It is the 4th group that he is concerned about:

It is incredible how many people assume the right to sit in judgement on me when they have never read a single word of mine. I could not possibly reply to all of them. In certain cases I have replied, especially when they have attacked my person with special severity. Some, for example, have prophesied that I would come to a dreadful end like Voltaire or Nietzsche. In that case I inquired on what grounds the -writer based this, and which of my writings he had read. The reply came without fail: he had read none of my writings! He had simply lathered from some Sunday paper or parish magazine that I am a teacher of false doctrines.

Bultmann is then scathing about the publishers:

I consider it irresponsible that Sunday papers or parish magazines should bring the topic - I almost said the slogan - of demythologizing before the laity at all, a topic of which they understand nothing, and which they are bound to misinterpret because it needs a theological education to understand it.

He then gets to the heart of the matter:

What is especially shattering is the inability of such writers of articles, and the correspondents they have misled, to face up to the question. With unflinching pharisaism they condemn an opinion different from their own as false doctrine, in the certain conviction that their own opinion alone represents the truth. They cannot imagine that they themselves could possibly be in error. They cannot listen any longer to another opinion or feel challenged to re-examine their own position. They do not know that Christian insight has to be won in inner wrestling and in brotherly discussion, and that this must proceed step by step. Thus they show that they are deaf to questions which nowadays trouble many people - young and old - in the Church, and hat by closing their ears to such questions they also deprive themselves of the opportunity of helping those who ask these questions. Thus it is their fault as much a much as anyone’s many people turn their backs on the Church. They are like the scribes and Pharisees who stop others from entering the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 23.13; Luke 11.52). Some of my correspondents try to lecture me in a way which I can only call conceited. They point to biblical passages without stopping to link that I have been familiar with those passages for years and without giving me the benefit of the doubt that in the course of my profession I have had reason to reflect on their meaning. Thus they do not credit me with any conscientious work, but reproach me for being irresponsible ad superficial. I consider that impertinent as well as conceited. And although it is touching that some of my correspondents assure me that they are praying for my conversion the same conceited attitude lies behind this.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

A question of Jensen on Driscoll

I was fortunate enough recently to visit Sydney and hear Don Carson and Kent Hughes speak. Two incredibly godly, learned, compelling teachers, and it was a joy to sit at their feet. Oh, and Mark Driscoll was there as well (which is in no way to imply that he isn't godly, learned or compelling!). If you don't know who he is, check out here (and congrats on waking up from the coma you've been in for the past couple of years).

Driscoll made 18 comments on the state of the church in Sydney, and it is fair to say that people in Sydney have not stopped talking about them. Personally I think many were spot on, some were deliberate (hopefully) caricatures and exaggerations designed to waken the slumbering, and a couple were unhelpful and wrong. Most recently, over at the Sola Panel (wish we'd thought of that name), Phillip Jensen has offered his thoughts, which are very helpful and steer a good middle ground.

However, I have difficulties with one of Phillip's comments. He says:
His [Driscoll's] address to us in the Cathedral was more that of a prophetic preacher than an expositor of the Bible

Driscoll's first comment was that 'the Bible guys are not the missional guys'. His seventh was that 'your teaching lacks [...] apologetics, mission, and application. Both statements are cutting critiques because they are stating that we [those who might align themselves with conservative evangelicalism] are handling the bible incorrectly. They're saying that we 'teach' the Bible without apologetics, mission, and application(!). That when we handle the Scriptures we are somehow not thinking about the culture (ecclesial and secular) that the Word is speaking into.

And my difficulty with Phillip's comments is that he implicitly affirms what Driscoll has criticised. He has validated Driscoll's criticism by splitting apart what shouldn't be. That being a 'prophetic preacher' can be separated out (somehow!) from being 'an expositor of the Bible'. They can't be. To expose the Scriptures is, by the power of God's Spirit, to prophetically (Rev 19:10) proclaim (2 Tim 4:2). And as God's word is made clear, as it is shown to counter our culture, as questions which oppose the message are answered, as it is prayerfully and graciously and lovingly applied to the hearers (Christian and non-Christian alike), the expositor is prophetically proclaiming the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The great irony in this, of course, is that Phillip is both, par excellence - by being an expositor of the Bible he is a prophetic preacher. And of course I'm sure Phillip wouldn't try to separate them out. But it is a timely reminder for us to keep on our toes, and to handle the word of truth correctly. Let us not separate what God has joined together.

Rudolf Bultmann

This coming week I will be trying to read quite a bit of Rudolf Bultmann. My first impression was not so good. I bought a copy of his NT Theology which was sealed with cellophane. In my attempt to open it I knocked my cappucino all over myself. So, there you go...make of that what you will.

Durham Cathedral

Continuing this mini-series of posts of no particular importance (unlike the vast majority of our highly significant reflections), apparently in years gone by if you committed a serious crime you could flee to Durham cathedral and knock on the door. You would then be given refuge for 37 days in which time you could get your affairs together. You then had the option to stand trial or to flee the country by the nearest port. Not sure if it mattered how many letters you had in your surname...

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

A very slow morning

This is of no weight, notice, import or significance. So, if you've having a slow day (as obviously I am), then read on. Otherwise, go and do something useful.

I'm sitting here at my desk gazing around aimlessly when something struck me. There are very few theologians of significance who have seven letters in their surname (and by 'theologians of significance, I mean theologians whose books I own, and by theologians I'm including historians and biblical scholars). Now of course the observant of you will immediately pick up on the fact that my surname as 7 letters, so it's not difficult to imagine the delusion of grandeur I was drifting away on.

But think about it. There aren't many. There are some (Barrett, Hoekema, Barnett, Wallace, Brunner, Goodwin, Trueman, Webster)

But the big guns are 6 and 8 letters (with a few 'fivers' thrown in - Stott, Barth, Piper, Bruce, Henry, and of course Doyle): Carson, Wright, Morris, O'Brien, Packer, Thomas, Murray, Grudem, Gunton, Machen, Nicole, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Westcott, Warfield, Demarest, Robinson, Torrance, Bromiley, Moltmann. The list goes on.

Now of course some of you will suggest that this is just the way things work - 7 letter names just aren't as popular as others. But still - you've got to wonder...

Saturday, 27 September 2008

The aseity of God

For some unknown reason it decided to snow today, and so, surprisingly having both sermons for tomorrow (kind of) finished, I decided to light the fire, get a cup of tea, and sit down with some theology. A few weeks ago I was kindly given a book of essays entitled Engaging the Doctrine of God - Contemporary Protestant Perspectives. It was time to have a crack at Webster on the aseity of God.

Aseity is a term which refers to the self-existence of God - God is not contingent on anyone or anything else for his existence. I won't provide you with a detailed walk-through of Webster's argument (mainly because it would require more Latin than I can be bothered putting in italics), but rather paint the general vista. It's still hard work, so get ready!

Asiety, notes Webster, has in recent times been thought of largely as the reverse concept of contingency. We require God in order to exist, but God is the opposite - he requires nothing. Problematically, this methodology not only removes the doxological aspect of this doctrine, it also grounds it cosmologically rather than personally (that is, it becomes a property of a god rather than the God).
Aseity becomes detached from the theological metaphysics of God's immanent and economic love and is reduced to the bare self-positing cause of created reality.(113)

The corrective is to think of aseity trinitarianly, and both immanently (God as he is in and of hismelf) and economically (God as he is towards us). Thus God is, says Webster, 'from himself, and from himself God gives himself'. This is a classic Websterian statement, similar to his articulation of the Trinity in reference to ecclesiology (see Webster's essays in The Community and the Word). Webster then takes these two features (God is from himself, and, from himself God gives himself) and addresses each in turn.

A long quote will suffice to express Webster's first point:

Expressed as relations, God's life a se [from/in himself] includes the Son's relation to the Father as the one whom the Father begets (passive generation) and the relation of the Spirit to the Father and the Son (passive spiration). By these activities and relations, each of the persons of the Trinity is identified, that is, picked out as having a distinct, incommunicable personal property: paternity [the Father], filiation [the Son], spiration [the Spirit]. Together these acts and relations are God's self-existence. Aseity is not merely the quality of being (in contrast to contingent reality) underived; it is the eternal lively plenitude of the Father who begets, the Son who is begotten, and the Spirit who proceeds from both. To speak of God's aseity is thus to speak of the spontaneous, eternal, and unmoved movement of his being-in-relation as Father, Son, and Spirit. This movement, without cause of condition and depending on nothing other than itself, is God's being from himself. In this perfect circle of paternity, filiation, and spiration, God is who he is. (115)
Webster goes on to examine the classical doctrine - that while all three persons are a se in essence, only the person of the Father is a se of himself - the aseity of the Son and the Spirit are from their relation to the Father. Whilst such a move dances with subordinationism, (suggesting that the Son and the Spirit are somehow less-god than the Father) , and has at times resulted in a retreat into monism, Webster articulates why this is not necessarily the case.
[Begotteness is not] a "coming-to-being" as the Father's creature, but a relation which is constitutive of the divine essence and of the identity of the Father as well as of the Son.' (116)

Because the relations between the persons are constitutive of God's being in himself, and because they are eternal, we can speak properly of the Father's alone being a se (in his person). The reason for this is because to do so is not to 'promote' the Father or 'demote' the Son, for the Father cannot be Father without the Son, and the Son cannot be Son without the Father. There is a mutually constitutive relationship (with, of course, the Spirit), which allows us to speak so. But sharp lines cannot be drawn. Here, it feels, we toy with the edges of mystery - for God's one-in-threeness and three-in-oneness are both required to be thought of simultaneously for us to seek to grasp God's being.

In the next major part of his work, Webster turns to consider the second part of his statement - 'from himself God gives himself'. God's perfection of being-in-relation includes the outpouring of his love, which is perfect and complete in itself, towards us. Indeed, Webster goes on to suggest that this outpouring of God's love is part of God's aseity.
In its perfection, it is also a movement of self-gift in which the complete love of Father, Son and Spirit communicates itself ad extra, creating and sustaining a further object of love. (119)

Webster acknowledges that this is not a common theme in the Christian doctrinal tradition, but sees support for it in John 5:26 "As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself." Webster then spends a fair amount of time examining Augustine and Calvin's treatment of this verse. A helpful summary is his statement:
But the life with which God alone lives of himself is the fullness of life which quickens. The form of this life-giving overflow of God's life is the Son. (italics original, 122)

God's life a se is, obviously, that of which God is. But, to state it somewhat crudely, because his life is both a noun (what he is) and a verb (what he does), because God is life he gives life. And it is by the Son, the one eternally generated, that God does that. In sum:
Aseity is not only the absence of external causation but the eternal life which God in and of himself is. It is therefore (following the Gospel's usage) inseity as much as asiety. This life cannot be conceived apart from the mutual relations of Father and Son; its perfection includes the perfect mutuality of the Father's giving of life to the Son, who in his turn has life in himself. No can this be conceive apart from its overflowing plenitude in giving itself to creatures. God's aseity, although it marks God's utter difference from creatures, does not entail his isolation, for what God is and has of himself is life and this life includes a self-willed movement of love. (123)

And if Webster left it there you'd be happy. It is an excellent treatment of a difficult topic, which he addresses carefully, clearly (although you might want to read it a couple of times, with a theological and Latin dictionary handy!), and in a way which allows you to see his grounding in historical theology and the Bible (more the former than the latter, unfortunately). It is a thoroughly trinitarian approach which clearly grounds the doctrine of aseity in the Scriptures and deals with the reality of God's self-revelation in Jesus as the grounds for our knowledge of God. Sure, we might have some questions - the Old Testament has much to say about the nature of God - how does this fit in (or is it relegated to a second place given the 'development' of salvation history and the revelation of God as triune in the incarnation).? Also, given the overflowing of God's being as life to his creation, what is the relationship between creation and reemption? Relatedly, there is no real treatment of the Cross, and the implications of this not only for the aseity of God, but how the cross event itself, and the death of the Son, themselves are the heart of God's live-giving love. But overall, it's a fair treatment.

But Webster doesn't leave it there.
If Christian dogmatics wishes to offer a corrective [to a purely philosophical, or non-trinitarian articulation of God's aseity], it can be only by recalling itself to its proper calling, which is the praise of God by crafting concepts to turn the mind to divine splendour. (123)
Webster quotes an early sermon by Jonathan Edwards, who speaks of the natural man, who may have great apprehension of God's attributes, but very little love for him. As Edwards says 'the knowledge of a thing is not in proportion to the extensiveness of our notions, or number of circumstances known, only; but it consists chiefly in the intensiveness of the idea'.

And that is what makes Webster an evangelical theologian. The end of theology is not to be able to write Latin, or quote Augustine or John of Damascus, but to love God and glorify him. And that is what Webster wants us to come away with. The aim of theology is doxological - to rejoice in the glory of God who though perfect in himself and wanting nothing, creates and loves and redeems at an incalculable cost to himself people like us. The aseity of God shows us the distance which is travelled at the cross, and grounds God's love for us and his salvation of us in God's very own being. Theology lifts our hearts for it slows our minds to ponder the depths of the beauty of God in Christ.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Answer the right questions

I preached on Sunday night at a friend's church, and was approached afterwards by a woman who wished to talk about my sermon, and sermons in general. I had just preached on Joshua 14 (Caleb's request to receive his inheritance), and had had as an additional reading Numbers 13. Her concern was that I didn't address who the Nephilim were (Num 13:33). My answer to her was that it wasn't in my passage, it was a contested point amongst scholars, and that spending time discussing a detail which didn't add anything to the meaning of the passage (the point being that the 10 spies were scared of the big guys who lived in the land) wouldn't have been helpful to people.

Her suggestion back was that people don't come to church because we don't make the Bible interesting. People want to hear, it was suggested to me, about the Nephilim. About the interesting things in the Bible. About the details. Those are the questions people have, and the don't come to church because those questions aren't answered.

Don't get me wrong, she was a Christian woman who loves Jesus and wants to see people come to salvation. But at this point I think she is mistaken, although she is not alone. Of course we make our sermons interesting. And of course we deal with the details of the text (when those details actually add to the point of the text). But we do that so that we might answer the questions that the Bible poses, not the questions that people bring with them. For the questions that the Bible poses are the big questions. They're questions which most people, at some time in their lives, ask of themselves. Why am I here. What happens when I die. What's the point. But because they don't have the answers, people don't often admit that they ask those questions. They relegate them to the back-blocks of their minds. Our job is to show how God answers those questions. Interestingly. Through the details. But from the whole counsel of Scripture.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Doctrinal truth

The new edition of themelios is out (read it here), and Trueman has an excellent editorial on Machen's Christianity and Liberalism.

Indeed, one overarching concern in Christianity and Liberalism is simply the vital importance of Christian doctrine to the church: doctrine, he makes clear, is the very heart of Christian testimony. Claiming to honor the Bible without synthesizing the Bible’s teaching into doctrine, into systematic theology, is not really honoring the Bible at all, for the Bible teaches truth, truth which is coherent and can be articulated; and regarding with indifference those things which the Bible clearly sees as important is, in some sense, the worst sin of all.

It's been a long while since I read Christianity and Liberalism (although Trueman has encouraged me to go back to it), and so I can't remember whether Machen develops the point that one of the important aspects of doctrinal formulation is that it states negatives as well as positives. In systematising and articulating the Bible, the theologian articulates what the truth is, but also, by necessity, articulates what is not true. Not the most popular idea to offer up at this time, but a true one, nonetheless.

From the mouths of babes...

Yesterday our new Bishop, Victoria came to visit. Along with all fathers of preschoolers, you're a bit worried about what the little ones will say when they meet important guests. Given that meter-readers on our doorstep have been invited by Liam to come and see his room, we had to have a few words before she arrived.

All was going well - tea and coffee were offered and accepted, and Liam decides he'd like a hot chocolate and so wanders into the kitchen. And then he gets his first proper look at Bishop Victoria.

"Hey! You're wearing a cross" declares the boy. "Jesus died for me on the cross!"

Gold. Solid Gold.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Moral guidance

Packer on an often underestimated aspect of God's work in our lives:

The bottom line, then, is that there are moral conditions of spiritual discernment. We shall not achieve clarity about God's will for us, either through the clamor of well-meant advisors or through the working of our own thoughtful hearts in times of quiet withdrawal, unless our hearts are set first and foremost on following, obeying, and pleasing the Father and the Son. Basic to true wisdom is an unending quest for holiness - purity of heart and perfection of love to God and men. The writer to the Hebrews warns us that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14), and we are saying that without holiness no one, however well advised and faithfully admonished, will adequately discern the will of God at any point in his or her life. Holiness, which is fundamental to prudence, must always come first.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Teaching Mark 9:42-50 to kids

This morning I was reading Mark 10:42 ff with the kids. Needless to say Jesus' words provoked some questions:

43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. [...] 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. [...] 46
47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,

One 'explanation' from Ben was that if you cut your hand off then all the sin would 'drop' out of you. Hmmm...Then I had to try and steer the conversation away from the technicalities of how you would actually gouge your eye out.

But, I learnt or was reminded of two lessons:
i. the absoulte horror of sin. While, no doubt, Jesus is speaking hyperbolically (although Origen for one took things more literally), his words graphically capture the seriousness of sin. This is something I think we - speaking as a modern Christian - have lost. Perhaps we gloss over the seriousness of sin, perhaps we cheapen grace...perhaps worst of all the enormity of the cross and just what Jesus had to go through to bear the punishment for our sin has faded form our view. Whatever, we would do well to let these verses remind us just what is at stake.

ii. it is good to read systemtaically through the Bible with our kids - difficult verses can throw up some good conversations. And even if they don't grasp exactly what is being taught - at the very least the impression they get is that the Bible is an interesting book. A book that talks about gouging your eyes out is not boring!

Some more on Machen...

Apparently Machen had some idiosyncracies when he was lecturing. So, he used to read the newspaper while his students parsed Greek verbs out loud – and he would correct them and keep on reading.

Victorian abortion

There is an excellent piece from David Ould on the Victorian abortion bill. Read it here. Ouldy is one of the more insightful (and, occasionally, inciting) writers I know, and he often gets to the heart of an issue.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Cranmer's church

I've been chipping away at a little book on Cranmer by Bromiley. There are some excellent chapters on the bishop's thoughts on justification, scripture, the church, etc. Given some of the contemporary Anglican discussions on ecclesiology and 'communion', the following is telling:

It is the church that "concerning the faith containeth itself within God's word, not that deviseth daily new articles contrary to God's word: the church, by the true interpretation of scripture and good example gathererth people unto Christ, not that by wrasting of the scripture and evil example of corrupt living draweth them away from Christ"

Some points
  • the church deliberately contains itself within God's word - there is an active submission to the Scriptures;
  • the aim of the church is to gather people Christ;
  • this is done through true interpretation of the scriptures, AND the good example of those within the church.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Alternatives to Typing

Given that I will be spending a lot of time reading and taking notes from books I thought it would be worth looking into some ways of speeding up the process. In the last week I have looked at speech recognition and pen scanners.

I tried speech recognition first. Windows Vista has its own built in speech recognition software. You take a twenty minute tutorial that trains it in how you speak and then you are ready for action. Now, admittedly I didn’t have a fancy microphone and my accent is somewhat ‘mixed’ shall we say (!), but this is what it came up with for the quote below:

When we come to seem that it was no mere man who suffered on our own little more than one these are more than warrants operation to help the society then all were Rivers up, and the has smiled up on the battlefields of history

You can see that that would need almost as much work to tidy up as typing the whole thing in the first place. That said – it is free and probably if I spoke properly and had a better microphone I could improve the hit-rate.

I then – on the basis of some on-line reviews – decided to buy a pen scanner. I settled on the C-Pen 20 Scanner which costs around £100 – not cheap at all. When it arrived it came with a hard-wired exit cable to insert into your computer. The problem was it didn’t fit my computer. Further, PC World did not have an adapter for it to USB. Upon some investigation I found it was a USB ‘A’ mini. I spent around 4 hours looking for a converter that will convert USB "A" Male to USB "Mini A", 5 Pin, Female. As far as I can tell it does not exist. Talk about frustration. I then happened to look inside the box that it came in...and there was my converter! That’s right folks four hours of my life gone for no reason whatsoever! Think of all the text I could have been typing in that four hours....

So, anyway, when I plugged it in I scanned the quote below and this is what came out:

When we come to see that it wa^as no mere man who suffered on Calvary but the Lord of Glory, then we shall be willing to say that one drop of the precious blood of Jesus is ofmore value, for our own salvation and the hope of society,than all the rivers of blood that have flowed upon the battlefields of history.”

Which, as you can see, is much better than the speech software.

So, in conclusion – the scanner seems to be the way to go if you can afford it, but it may be worth giving the SRS a better go – or trying Dragon Dictate which is meant to be much better (but seemingly not much cheaper than a scanner).

Whatever you go for - make sure you check the box!

Another Machen quote

When we come to see that it was no mere man who suffered on Calvary but the Lord of Glory, then we shall be willing to say that one drop of the precious blood of Jesus is of more value, for our own salvation and the hope of society, than all the rivers of blood that have flowed upon the battlefields of history.”

J Gresham Machen II

Am interesting (to me at least!) fact and a helpful quote:

Machen studied under Wilhelm Herrmann in Marburg in Germany. Herrmann had two other famous students – Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann.

‘What Machen was searching for was neither an intellectualism devoid of faith nor a faith devoid of intellectual merit. Nor was he after either a rigorous scholarship without piety or a vital piety without roots in scholarship. He longed for piety and intellect fused into one, an intellectually informed and compelling faith.'

Saturday, 13 September 2008

J. Gresham Machen

I have been reading Stephen Nichols’ biography of J Gresham Machen. Machen was a NT scholar at the beginning of the last Century. He was tremendously influential in the Presbyterian church in the US and ended up founding Westminster Seminary after concluding that Princeton had irreversibly moved beyond orthodoxy.
Over the next few days I’ll post a few snippets from the book. For starters, it is obvious where Machen got his love of learning. Nichols points out that ‘often read the classics in the original Greek as a means to relax in the evenings’.
Unfortunately I don’t have borrowing rights for the University Library yet otherwise I could curl up this evening with a copy of Herodotus. I guess I will have to watch TV instead...

Durham Impressions II

Durham has a long and dignified history of NT scholars which added to my surprise that the theological section of the library is seemingly so sparse. Perhaps I have not discovered all the resources, but it certainly seems much smaller than Moore’s. For example, the journals seemed very thin on the ground - there is no JETS, WTJ or Duke Review. In books there was nothing by Vos and only a couple by John Murray. I realise I was looking for the more Reformed evangelical stuff (though Duke would not fall into that category) but still I was surprised at what wasn’t there.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

PhD First Impressions

I met with my supervisor yesterday for the first time, and so even though I don’t officially start until October , I feel like I am getting down to some serious work. One of the key things that was stressed was the need for some serious German work. It is important to be able to read recent German commentaries which may not be translated into English for a number of years. To that end, we will have a weekly (or so) reading group where we will look at a German theological text. I have done a bit of work, but feel this is going to be a painful process....

I have also been assigned to read two books for next week by the German NT scholar Albert Schweitzer: Paul and His Interpreters and The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle. Thankfully, these books are available in English! So, my first day has been spent ploughing through 250 pages of the first volume. In many ways, this is a summary of German NT scholarship up to around 1910. At the same time, Schweitzer poses and tries to answer his own questions . For him, the key issue for Paul is why his teaching is different (apparently) to that of Jesus, and why in fact Paul refers so infrequently to that of Jesus. His answer is simply:

It is as though [Paul] held that between the present world-period and that in which Jesus lived and taught there exists no link of connexion, and was convinced that since the death and resurrection of the Lord conditions were present which were so wholly new that they made His teaching inapplicable, and rendered a new basis for ethics and a deeper knowledge respecting His death and resurrection.

There are obviously huge problems with this answer...in fact there are obvious problems with the question! Are the teaching of Jesus and the Apostle Paul really so radically different? Did not the other apostles recognise that what Paul taught was identical to what they taught (Gal 2:7-9)?
However, Schweitzer does make some observations that we can use to help us to probe more deeply into Paul. How do we account for the differences between the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul? Is it merely that they are different genres or is something more going on? How did Paul think about Jesus on earth and in his exalted state – what kind of connection is there? These are questions I may spend the next little while looking at...

Durham First Impressions

As Dave noted, we have indeed been busy settling into Durham. Thankfully, we are starting to find our feet and beginning to feel at home here.
Durham is a small town in the North East of England. It feels a bit like Oxford and Cambridge in that the University really is woven into the fabric of the town. It is also an ancient town. Emma and I walked over a bridge that was about 900 years old the other week.
Typical of the North of England, people are generally very friendly and will chat to you on the street – very different to London – especially on the Tube. Our transition has been helped by meeting people (and rekindling old friendships) at our new church – Christ Church Durham. The church has a high proportion of PhD students – most of whom seem to be from the States and looking at some aspect of Pauline theology. So, lots of fun conversations of morning tea for everyone!

When I get more organised, I will try and post some photos and more info.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

A quick catchup

The more observant among you will have noticed that things have been a little silent here for a while. Life has been busy for both of us, so a little background and summary should bring all up to date, and then, hopefully, slightly more regular blogging can commence.

I'm in the middle of a six week series on Joshua, which I'm preaching at St Stephens church in Shirley, Christchurch. A dear friend, Jay Behan, is vicar there, and it is an absolute joy to go in week after week and hear of his faithful, and see his fruitful, ministry. However, it has been time consuming, and so, if you are a person who regularly writes and preaches two (or more!) sermons each week - I tip my hat to you.

We've also had a number of visitors with us - Geoff and Liz Robson, and presently Emma Poulsom. Geoff is the assistant minister at St Andrew's Wahroonga, and Em is at Naremburn-Cammeray. Both are doing well, and it has been wonderful for both Amanda and I to have friends with us, to be able to talk and laugh about the joys and trials of ministry.

I've also been away - a few days in Sydney with the Ministry Training and Development people (that's the Sydney diocese's post-ordination training). Again, it was a wonderful time of sitting under the word, being provoked to careful and biblical thought about ministry and evangelism, and being encouraged by brothers to keep on preaching the word, loving your people, and seeking the glory of God in the face of Christ. After that there were a few days at the annual synod of the diocese of Christchurch. And it's very good to be back in Methven.

As for the Orrsome one - I presume he's moving into Durham, getting settled, and trying to sort out a publisher for his PhD.

The busy-ness of the past few weeks (and, unfortunately, there is more to come this week) has forced me again and again to rely on God's strength, to seek him constantly in prayer, and to thank him for his sustaining and providential power. I have to say that I have known no greater joy than, even in a state of utter exhaustion, to come to him in prayer, trusting that he is at work in his world, that he is faithful, and that he is pleased to use weak and frail instruments in his service.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

An interview

Here is the first in a who-knows-how-many series of interviews! Our first interviewee is Paul Ritchie - a Methodist Minister in Richhill, Northern Ireland. Originally from Cork City, he has been minstering in Northern Ireland for 12 years. Paul is married to Caroline and they have two kids - Anya and Ronan.

What do you find are the general challenges in ministry?
Quite simply, when Paul says, 'Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ' (1 Cor 11:1) I find it a real challenge to say those words and not be a hypocrite.

What are the challenges you face as a Southern Irishman ministering in Northern Ireland?
My first post was a lay assistant in Dungannon. I was given a house in a loyalist area. I tried to buy the paper without using any words so they wouldn't hear my accent! I found that people would say things like 'Don't bring politics into the pulpit.' But over the years I have realised that the same people don't mind politics in the pulpit as long as it is their politics! Over the years, the challenge has been how to be all things to all people and not let me Southerness be too much of my identity.

What challenges do you find being a Methodist minister?
One of the challenges has to be theological. My main theological influences don't reflect the theology of my denomination. Before ordination I wrote a letter to the secretary of conference and had a chat with himself and the secretary of the board of examiners to explain that to see if they could accept where I stood. Also, the system we have in our denomination of moving ministers every few years is not one I think is productive.

Can you expand on some of the theological differences?
Whereas most ministers in the Methodist church are into John Wesley - I am more into John Stott! And a lesser known theologian called Pete Orr has had a significant influence on my theological development!

Can you tell us some books that you have found particularly helpful in ministry?
None hugely jump to mind with regards to ministry in particular. But the three books that have most influenced my understanding are: How Long O Lord by Don Carson because I was blown away by how Biblically rooted it was; The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by Don Carson which was hugely significant in a theological paradigm shift; Showing the Spirit by....Don Carson (!) - particularly for its final chapter which discusses spiritual gifts for the church today.

Related to that Paul, you describe yourself as a Reformed Charismatic - can you tell us why and what it looks like in the practice of your church?
I have always been fascinated by what labels to put on yourself and what to avoid but currently Reformed Charismatic is somewhat of an aspiration. We run a service called Cafe Church fortnightly on a Sunday evening in which we have tentatively sought to be more open to certain charismatic gifts such as prophecy. Sometimes it feels that those who are into prophecy aren't into exposition of the word. We want to keep teaching central and yet by open to using the git of propecy. I would like Cafe Church to be an example of using gifts like prophecy in a way that doesn't move the exposition of the word from the centre.

Can I ask what you think NT prophecy looks like?
My thinking on this is largely shaped by Carson's Showing the Spirit but where as many in Reformed circles might agree with what Carson says (i.e. they would not be cessationists), they seem not to be too keen to put it into practice. I think that the gift of prophecy has a revelatory function - primarily to encourage Christians but must always be weighed.

How do you ensure the prophecies are weighed?
Our plan is that prophecies would be run by myself and David (our intern) who are responsible for teaching in Cafe Church. We would try and ensure that there is nothing that contradicts Scripture in them and explain to the Congregation that prophecies must be taken with degree of tentativeness. We must accept prophecy with a degree of humility in that the weighing of it implying a mixed content. We are at the very early stages of using this gift.

A final question: What do you like to do to relax?
On a Monday afternoon I go to the Movies on my own. And my family is an ever-increasing source of joy. I love Rugby and take great joy in Munster's success [editors note: Muntser are the second best Rugby team in Ireland behind Ulster] and have managed to get to three crucial rugby matches - Munster vs Leinster in the SF of the Heiniken Cup (at Landsdowne Road); Ireland vs England at Croke Park which was the first time that God Save the Queen was ever sung at Croke Park (that had huge historical significance); and the Heiniken Cup final this year when Munster beat Toulose.

Thanks Paul!

Friday, 15 August 2008

A new creation

All Saints Methven has just launched it's newly created website. Our good friends at safi made it for us, and were excellent and doing everything we were after. It's got all the usual guff of a church website, but one thing I'm keen to do, given the number of tourists and travellers we get through here, is to have a very strong links page. That is, I'd love to be able to recommend churches all around the world, so no matter where people go after Methven they are able to find a solid church where they'll be welcomed and hear the Scriptures faithfully proclaimed. To that end, if you know of any such churches, particularly in traveller-heavy places, or places off the beaten track, I'd love to get their details from you. Also, if you have a church, or are part of a church, please consider popping us on your links page, so that when your people come here to ski or just visit this beautiful part of the world, they know where they can find family.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Joy in you.

I've just finished meeting up with Greg, a friend of a friend (but now a friend in his own right) who works up at Mt Hutt. Greg and I catch up each week, share our lives, read the Bible together, and spend some time in prayer. We've been working our way through 1 Thessalonians, and came tonight to the end of chapter 3. Lots of things struck us (including what exactly was lacking in the Thessalonians's faith - 3:10), but one thing in particular. Paul is ecstatic about the Thessalonians' perseverance in the faith.

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:8-9

We were both struck by the fact that we don't feel the same way about other Christians. Sure, I'm pretty happy when someone becomes a Christian, but my Christian life isn't marked by joy at other people's standing before God. And it's not just us - think about Christian songs of joy and praise that you sing - do any of them speak of joy in other believers? Joy in God. Joy in Christ. Joy in salvation. Yes. But joy because other believers are standing firm?

And that got us wondering. Why don't we have this joy? Surely here is an area of Christian experience that we are missing out on (to use very selfish language!) And we wondered if part of it is our strongly individualistic western upbringing. And it might also be our pomo relativistic worldview. But I wonder if for Christians part of the reason that we don't have this joy is because we are reluctant to really be involved in the lives of other believers. For if we get involved in their lives we'll see sin. Theirs and ours. And they might tell us about ours. And we might feel compelled to tell them about theirs. And then things might get messy. And so we don't get that involved in each others' lives. And so we miss out on joy. Joy which exceeds thankfulness. Joy which makes us 'really live'.

How to Really Love Your Child

I have read a few books on being a parent, but 'How to Love Your Child' is one of the best. The title reveals what the author considers the basic way we are to relate to our children – love. This in itself was thought provoking. We can easily think of discipline, training, parenting or raising children, but Campbell wants us to see that the fundamental way we must relate to our children is by loving them.
However, insightfully, Campbell points out that there may be a gap between our love for our children and their perception of it. He gives countless examples of children growing up in families where they were obviously loved by their parents but where the parents did not work hard at communicating that love. As a result the children reach their teenage years smouldering with resentment.

Accordingly, Campbell identifies the ways in which we can show our children how we love them: Eye contact, physical contact, focussed attention and discipline. His treatment of each of these is very helpful, practical and, perhaps most importantly, realistic. I had never realised how important eye contact was and am now trying to engage each of my children more deliberately. (They are probably getting a bit freaked out by their Dad suddenly staring at them....) Perhaps the hardest one to put into practice is focussed attention. In our age of DVDs etc., it is all too easy to try and satisfy your children's needs in a very lazy way by putting them in front of a TV and to assuage your conscience by making sure that the program is at least educational. However, it is only deliberate, focussed attention that will reinforce to your child that you love him or her.

In terms of practical ways to show your child you love them, then this book cannot be faulted. The question , however, is whether Campbell is right that the fundamental need of a child is to know that they are loved. This is obviously a Christian book but there is not a great deal of detailed interaction with the Bible. However, I do think that Campbell is on to something. He has taken the most basic command of Scripture – to love one another and basically expounded it in the context of parents relating to their children. In that sense, it is a thoroughly Christian book. Campbell does not shy away from treating the whole area of discipline – he devotes three chapters to it and cautions against both dealing with misbehaviour too permissively or too harshly And although he does not see the idea of 'training' children as fundamental, it is there – so there is a chapter on 'Helping your child spiritually'.

In general then, I do think this is one of the most helpful books I have read on parenting. However, I did have one main area of concern. I wonder if there may be a very subtle downplaying of the doctrine of sin. Campbell seems to argue (almost exclusively) that when a child is misbehaving it is testing our love: 'Most behaviour in a child is determined by how much he feels loved [...] a child continually tests our love by his behaviour [...] It stands to reason that when anyone is desperate enough, his behaviour may become in appropriate. Nothing makes a child more desperate than the lack of love. This is the primary cause of misbehaviour in a child.' [106-107] Surely, while this is a helpful insight into the nature of some misbehaviour, it fails to take account of the Bible's testimony of human sinfulness. As such, while I heartily recommend this book, it is with the caution that even if we follow it we will not create perfect children. Fundamentally, parenting involves prayerful, humble dependence on God to change our children. As we do that then we are really loving our children.